Friday, July 13, 2012

Greatest Thing Of Anything: The Book Barn

When I worked in Maine, I wound up renting an apartment right across the street from a bookstore. It was something of a catch-all place. There were plenty of new books on the first floor, along with local titles, magazines, locally baked doughnuts, stuffed animals, and children's toys. The basement was stuffed with used books, and the paperbacks there were yours for 50 cents each. I'd usually make it a point to stop in during the weekend and see what was available.

I've usually got a couple of books that I'm reading at any given time, and when I moved to Connecticut one of the first things I did was get a library card. When it comes to purchasing books, however, New London is lacking. A couple is trying to raise money to open one up, but that's a work in progress and it only started recently. When I arrived in 2010, it wasn't long before I missed living so close to a bookstore and I asked around to find another one.

The first recommendation I got, without hesitation, was The Book Barn.


I'm just realizing that this is the second entry I've done about a barn business in the past couple of months, but believe me, they're both awesome. It's always discouraging to hear about the challenges bookstores are going through as people start to rely more on electronic readers, but The Book Barn has bucked that trend. It opened in 1981, and since then it has expanded to acquire more real estate in the touristy coastal town of Niantic. Aside from the original location, located on the outskirts of downtown, there are two related shops right on the main drag. The stores are open 12 hours a day for every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The titular barn site has the majority of titles, but quite a few of the books are spread across the site in sheds. The cheaper paperbacks tend to be neatly packed into wagons parked outside these places. If you're in the mood for a game, there's also a giant chess set and a basketball hoop.

It's always good for bookstores to have a unique character, so here are some of the things that stand out the most about The Book Barn. There are a bunch of cats, mostly friendly, roaming the property and they have a guide to identify who's who. A couple of goats have their own enclosure as well. Most books go for four or five dollars, with some of the older or more plentiful paperbacks priced at a buck each. Visitors are welcome to free coffee, mini donuts, cookies, and cheese crackers, with the chiding caveat that they're for all guests so don't be greedy. The section on Napoleon is labeled "That pestiferous little Corsican." The impulse buy shelf includes things like Team of Rivals (and yes, I did snatch that up right away). When they purchase books, the volumes spend some time in a shed called "Ellis Island" where people can peruse them to get a first shot at purchase before they're organized in the correct sections.

Evinrude hangs out by the register (

The business describes itself as having a web presence (it has a detailed website, after all) but it doesn't have any aspects of e-commerce about it. You're not going to be able to make any e-reader purchases there, and you're not going to be able to search the collection of half a million titles and buy books online. But they assure you that if you're looking for a particular book, the staff will easily be able to help you.

And you can find some pretty excellent things just by browsing a collection as big as this one. I discovered one specific title I was looking for, on a group of World War I pilots from Yale University, perched atop a tall bookcase about military aviation. Stopping into Book Barn Downtown not long after seeing the biopic Chaplin, I couldn't resist buying a copy of a hefty biography on the actor. It was amid the room containing books on every sport imaginable that I found Bill McKibben's Long Distance, one of the few titles available on cross-country ski racing.

A few library sales and gifts have contributed to my bookshelf, with paperbacks stacked horizontally a couple of rows deep and others perched haphazardly on the vertical rows. But the welcoming atmosphere of The Book Barn, and the fact that I rarely leave without at least one purchase, probably goes a long way toward explaining its current state.

No comments:

Post a Comment